Sunday Old School: Helloween
Band Photo: Helloween (?)
Power metal is a genre that has been somewhat neglected by the Sunday Old School column. It’s still very much alive however (go to a metal festival in Europe if you don’t believe me) and this week we’ll be making up for our past snub by taking a look at one of the most revered bands in the field, Helloween. Helloween were formed in 1984 in the German city of Hamburg by singing guitarist, Kai Hansen, along with drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg, bassist Markus Grosskopf and second guitarist Michael Weikath. They soon signed to Noise Records and appeared on a compilation album named, "Death Metal," which was notable for its inclusion of other bands such as Hellhammer and Running Wild. Only a year after forming, they released a self-titled EP and their first full length album, "Walls of Jericho." The record received mixed reviews but is a popular one amongst fans and is notable for a number of reasons, including being the namesake of wrestler Chris Jericho and his signature move, and perhaps most importantly for being the only full length Helloween record where Hansen handled the vocal duties, after deciding to concentrate on his guitar work following the release of another EP entitled, "Judas."
Their search for a new lead singer led to the recruitment of eighteen year old vocalist, Michael Kiske and the band wanted to celebrate the new addition by releasing a double album, but this idea was thwarted by the record company. As a compromise, they released one album, "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1" in 1987, and a companion record, "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2" in 1988. Both albums received near universal praise and sold well, with the second part being particularly successful, partly thanks to the single, "I Want Out," which was aired heavily on the MTV show, "Headbanger’s Ball," and took part in the first Headbanger’s Ball Tour, along with Californian thrash masters Exodus and headliners, Anthrax. As the band’s star continued to rise, they were dealt a massive blow when Hansen announced that he would be leaving the group as a result of poor health, amongst a number of other reasons including tensions with bandmates and the record company. His last recorded appearance with the band came in the form of a live album named, "Live in the U.K." (known in the United States as "I Want Out Live.") before being replaced by Roland Grapow, formerly of the band, Rampage and going on to form the band, Gamma Ray.
Life after Hansen got off to a difficult start after their next album, 1991’s bizarrely named, "Pink Bubbles Go Ape," met with a mostly frosty reception due to its shift from an epic vibe to a more comedic one. The slide continued with the release of their fifth album, "Chameleon" in 1993, which musically ambitious, featuring the band experimenting with swing and country music amongst other ventures, but poorly received by critics and fans alike. The problems didn’t end with the music either. Tension was so high within the group that the band members split into different camps, with the guitarists in one and Kiske and Schwitenberg on the other, while Grosskopf did his best maintain peace. Eventually, Schwitenburg, who was facing a very dangerous addiction to drugs and alcohol, was fired from the band and was replaced by Ritchie Abdel-Nabi, who himself was fired not long after he joined after not being able to perform the songs in the same fashion as Schwitenberg. Relationships were still at breaking point within Helloween however, to such a degree that Weikath outright refused to work with Kiske, which caused the singer to lose his place in the band, leaving the microphone available for Pink Cream 69 vocalist, Andi Deris to take over, while former Gamma Ray drummer, Uli Kusch took his place behind the Helloween drum kit.
This new incarnation of the band released their first album together in 1994 in the form of, "Master of the Rings," which was hailed by many as a return to form, thanks in part to the song writing talents of Deris, along with the renewed sense of enthusiasm he and Kusch brought to the band. The album also sold well, particularly in Japan where it shifted over 120,000 units, but, as per the band’s usual luck, their success was blighted by tragedy in 1995 when Schwitenberg committed suicide by jumping in front of a train, being unable to cope with his drug use and depression anymore. Helloween dedicated their next album, "The Time of the Oath" to his memory in 1996. It was a fitting compliment to the former drummer, as it helped solidify the band as one of the biggest European metal acts of the time. Lyrically, all the songs revolved around the supposed predictions of the French philosopher, Nostradamus, and what he saw for the years 1994 to 2000. The success and acclaim continued further still with their 1998 album, "Better Than Raw," with the record’s popularity bringing them back to the United States for the first time in ten years, before releasing a covers album, "Metal Jukebox" in 1999 and another album, "The Dark Ride" in 2000, which was immediately hailed as, and still considered to be, one of the best albums in their catalogue.
However, as per usual, problems within the band soon arose and the group lost two more members when they decided to fire Kusch and Grapow by e-mail following the tour in support of "The Dark Ride." Reasons for their sacking remain disputed, though it is suspected that the duo’s side project, Masterplan was a major factor. Their places were taken by well travelled drummer, Mark Cross and former Freedom Call guitar player, Sascha Gerstner, although Cross was only able to record two tracks for their next record, "Rabbit Don’t Come Easy" before a bout with mononucleosis forced him to leave the band, with former King Diamond and current Motorhead drummer, Mikkey Dee filling in for him as a session musician during the recording of the album. Helloween soon found another new drummer in the shape of former Accept member, Stefan Schwarzmann. Although response to "Rabbit Don’t Come Easy" was rather lukewarm, they still embarked upon, and successfully completed a world tour, including their first tour of the United States since 1989 (their previous American visit only consisted of one show in New York.)
Yet another change in lineup was next for the band, as Schwarzmann parted company with the group over musical differences, his place being taken by Swiss drummer, Dani Loble. They also signed a new record deal with German label, SPV, through which they released their next album in 2005, "Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy." The new record proved to be worthy to share the same moniker as their classic eighties releases, garnering strong reviews worldwide. They followed this release with a live album, "Keeper of the Seven Keys – The Legacy World Tour," which was recorded in Brazil, Japan and Bulgaria and found itself surprisingly high in the charts worldwide, including a top ten place in Germany, France and Sweden. After the release of another album, 2007’s, "Gambling With the Devil," the dreams of many power metal fans came true when Helloween announced that they would be teaming up with their former bandmate, Kai Hansen, for a tour featuring Helloween and Hansen’s band, Gamma Ray, during which Hansen would join Helloween on stage to perform some old classics.
The band continued to celebrate their history in 2009, when they re-recorded a selection of older material for 25th anniversary album entitled, "Unarmed – Best of 25th Anniversary," before unleashing their thirteenth studio album, "7 Sinners" on October 31st the next year. The album was another success and led to them touring with Statovarius and Deris’ former outfit, Pink Cream 69. In a few days time, Helloween will release the fourteenth studio album of their career, "Straight Out of Hell," which they will be promoting by heading out on the road with Gamma Ray once again. Regardless of how the new album will be received, the band cemented their place at the top of the power metal tree a long time ago, and remain one of the best known acts in the history of German heavy metal.
Helloween - "I Want Out"
Helloween - "Kids Of The Century"
Helloween - "I Can"
Helloween - "If I Could Fly"
Helloween - "Just A Little Sign"
Helloween - "Are You Metal?"
Helloween - "Nabataea"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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